Sullivan Chairs Hearing on Future of U.S. Maritime Agencies

Secures Alaska Commitments on Coast Guard Regulatory Reform and In-State Fleet Maintenance

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) yesterday chaired a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security to review the state of the missions of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, and the Federal Maritime Commission. The featured witnesses included Admiral Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, Administrator Mark Buzby of the Maritime Administration, and Chairman Michael Khouri of the Federal Maritime Commission. The hearing covered a range of important maritime issues, as well as several Alaska-specific concerns, including ensuring adequate search-and-rescue coverage, the ability of the Coast Guard to conduct maintenance of its fleet in Alaska, and regulatory reform proposals submitted to the Coast Guard by Alaska fishermen that went unanswered.

“The United States is a maritime state, with more than 95,000 miles of shoreline – over half of which is in my home state of Alaska,” said Senator Sullivan. “America’s ports, waterways, and river systems support over $4.6 trillion in annual economic activity, and almost 650,000 jobs. It’s hugely important that federal regulations and oversight evolve in lock-step as the global maritime industry evolves and grows. Our federal maritime agencies play a critical role in our nation’s homeland, military and economic security. It is important that, as we begin the reauthorization process, we ensure the missions of these agencies maintain the proper focus to be successful, and that Congress is aware of the resources that are needed to ensure this occurs.”

Senator Sullivan pressed the witnesses on several issues of importance to Alaskans.

In early 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13777, which directed federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens on the American people,” and “establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate existing regulations.” In response to the order, in 2017, the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) submitted a list of unnecessary and obsolete regulations that it deemed appropriate to eliminate by the Coast Guard. The group never received a response to its proposal.

At the hearing, Senator Sullivan secured the commitment of Admiral Schultz to arrange a meeting between a high-level Coast Guard official and leaders of the UFA to discuss their ideas for streamlining regulation of fishing operations in Alaska and across the country. 

Regarding another concern to Alaskans, Senator Sullivan included language in the 2018 Coast Guard Authorization bill intended to authorize the Coast Guard to more flexibly utilize facilities in Alaska, like the world-class Ketchikan Shipyard, for the maintenance of its Alaska-based fleet. Unfortunately, due to directives issued by the Department of Homeland Security, Alaska-based vessels continue to be sent to Washington State and California for maintenance, even though there are financial and strategic disadvantages associated with doing so.  

Senator Sullivan raised his frustration with Admiral Schultz, asking, “Can I get a commitment from you…to once again put this issue to rest, which makes strategic sense for the Coast Guard, for the cost of maintenance, for your biggest district—District 17?” 

“Chairman, absolutely, you’re right,” said Admiral Schultz. “We did recently get guidance from the department that says that language did not get us there. You have my commitment to work with your staff on the language. Staying consistent with the small set of side rules that exist today, I anticipate we will have some work with geographic restriction in this calendar year 2019. The Alaska shipyard should be very competitive—to compete for if they solicit. You have my absolute commitment to work on language that accomplishes the committee’s objectives here.” 

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